It was fantastic to see Evgeni Malkin return the ice last night for the first time in the fortnight, however his two powerplay goals were not enough to extend to Pittsburgh Penguins winning streak one more, as Scott Harnell’s game-winner gave the Flyers the top spot in the National Hockey League.
The last time the Penguins had lost before meeting Philadelphia, was against Boston on 10th November, over a months ago. The streak has now ended at 12, but it is clear that as long as Sidney Crosby is playing, that anything is possible, and he gave the team a new sense of confidence, really making the whole team around him better, as some seventeen different Pens players recorded at least a point during the run, while Crosby continued his own personal point and goal streaks. It is echoes of 66, as Sid tallied 16 goals and 29 points during the streak, including two hat-tricks and can make it 20 straight games with a point, if he gets on the scoresheet tonight against the Rangers. Crosby at times seems invincible because of how he contributes right across the board. He is shooting so much more, regularly having 5 shots on net per game, and his faceoff-percentage hasn’t fallen under 50% in December, and it was at 73 percent in the 5-2 win over Toronto in which he really was invincible. It must be that old igloo ice that is somewhere with the faceoff-circle at Consol.
As incredible as Crosby has been, it is already known that he is the no.1 fantasy player right now. Easily the greatest improver this year has been Kris Letang. Despite cooling off a little this past week, Letang’s output is still at a sky-high level, and the fans are recognizing it too, as he is not only pulling in All-Star votes, but leading all-defensemen in voting. It really has been an outstanding year so far for the Montreal native to be not only on a point-per-game pace, but to be the Penguins leader on the back end in all parts of the game, with many even calling for Norris Trophy consideration. No doubt though, that Sergei Gonchar’s name hasn’t been dropped too often around Pittsburgh, after there were initially worries about whether Letang would be able to mature quickly enough. The answer is a resounding yes, and if he stays healthy, look for ‘Tanger to surpass Gonchar’s totals for last season of 11 goals and 50 points in 62 games.
More importantly though, Letang is a positive player. He is plus-17 already, whereas Gonchar has been a notorious minus player, and is an awful minus-16 on a Sens team still looking for answers. Letang is making all the right decisions, playing on the right side of the puck, and long may it continue.
Without Kristopher Letang leading by example, Pittsburgh’s monster run would likely have been half as long. The Washington Capitals knows what it feels like to have these kind of streaks, being the winner’s of six straight a month ago. However, the Caps have recently fallen on much harder ground. Currently in a losing skid of 3, Washington is struggling for offense with just two goals in the last week, including most recently that 7-0 demolition in Madison Square Garden. Certainly not the kind of goal output you’d expect from the league’s best last year, and fantasy owners will be looking for Nicklas Backstrom to end a six game goalless drought against the Ducks tonight, and that Alexander Ovechkin’s fight with Brandon Dubinsky primed No.8 for an offensive outburst, following a lacklustre week of no goals, one point, and a minus-one.
Where some stars are struggling, other are feeling the Christmas spirit early. After a downturn last year, Pavel Datsyuk is finally back to his old self in Detroit, with a minus-two against the Kings the only blemish on a stellar 3 goal, 7 point week in which he also got the better of Carey Price with a backhander which seemed to freeze time. It certainly froze Price, who leads all-star voting for goaltenders, and still leads the NHL with 17 wins. Claude Giroux is solidifying his turn of form from the Stanley Cup, and his 15th goal last night against the Penguins puts him only one goal behind Daniel Sedin, and one point behind captain Mike Richards for the team lead in points. Philadelphia leads the league now in goals as well as points, and it is the 31 goals from Briere and Giroux combined that is motoring the team towards another successful season. Matt Duchene also appears to be a player developing well ahead of schedule. Duchene’s 11 goals and 30 points place him level with Richards, in just his second year in the NHL. His performance alone against Chicago saw the Avalanche come through with the win, and his game-winner was a moment of inspiration within a crazy 7-5 outcome.
Between the pipes, the most impressive goaltender this week past was easily Anders Lindback of the Nashville Predators, who has creeped his way into fifth in the league in save percentage, with three straight wins including two straight shutouts. The 35 save performance in the back-to-back with Detroit was pretty impressive too. Many will have acquired Lindback this week as a fantasy option this week, but he is still just 35% owned in Yahoo leagues, and you would think he is the goalie of choice right now in Nashville.
In complete contrast, Marty Turco of the Chicago Blackhawks has just been plain awful. Turco hasn’t won since a shutout on 17th November, but it was against the Oilers. Turco was dropped by many fantasy owners following getting pulled in Colorado this week, and the numbers don’t make for happy reading. Turco has a 3.06GAA on the year, but even more of a concern for me is that he doesn’t even have a winning record, it’s 8-8-2 besides a .896 save percentage. It’s been an inconsistent season for the Blackhawks, and stability within the team is missing with the injuries of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. The Stanley Cup champions are at present out of the playoffs, though there is just one point that seperates them with the Vancouver Canucks, in the logjam that is the Western Conference.